Saga of Sea Tub

Sea-kayaking Anacortes, Washington to Emmonak, Alaska

Northern Paddling Adventure #1

100 days, 3,392 miles, Apr-Jul 1988

Ray & Jenny Jardine

Saga of the Sea Tub - Part 2 page 3 of 5

Saga of the Sea Tub

A 3,300 mile Journey to the North

Part 2 - Prince Rupert to Skagway

Ray Jardine

The summer of 1988, Jenny and I embarked on a 3,300 sea-kayaking voyage along the Pacific coasts of Canada and SW Alaska, over the Chilkoot Trail by portage, and down the Yukon River. This is the second in a series of articles about the Saga of the Sea Tub.

In the initial 29 days we have paddled and sailed our two-person kayak 570 miles from Anacortes, Washington to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The weather has been boisterous, with lots of stormy seas and rain. Our bodies and minds are toughening to the rigors, but some of our gear is not handling the downpours very well. So here at Prince Rupert we buy a better selection of rainwear, of the type the local fishermen wear. Also we buy a hatchet and folding saw to make kindling for our campfires, and a tarp twice the size of the one we had been stringing between trees to keep our camp and gear dry. But of all these, our most important purchase is a small, hand-operated bilge pump.

Setting off with renewed confidence, we follow the coastline to Port Simpson. The wind is astern, and so strong that at one point we "sail" at speed for a mile bare-poled without taking a stroke. Cutting a line directly across Port Simpson Bay, we negotiate two miles of rough water. The waves are breaking on the Tub's port quarter, and with the strong wind and our best paddling efforts, we maintain what must be our best speed ever.

The next 1-1/2 miles beyond Birnie Island are the roughest paddling we have experienced on the trip. The seas average 5 feet - not swell, but chop. In fact, the water is so boisterous that I feel I must paddle alone to maintain equilibrium. So as we round the broad headland of Flewin Point, Jenny lies low in her cockpit to improve stability while I maneuver us through the largest of the waves. One rogue monster appears at quite a distance, giving me plenty of time to figure out what to do. I turn stern-to, and the steamrolling wave pitches the Tub's stern sharply up. Its foamy crest poops the afterdeck and leaves us wallowing upright and none the worse for the roller coaster ride.

We press ahead under full power on the main engine while the secondary engine lies low, and eventually round the corner into the welcome protection of a large bay. Portland Inlet lies just ahead and we cannot safely cross it in such weather. So under power of both engines we cross Work Channel and find a campsite in the gravel above high tide line. Hearing footsteps on the beach, we look out to see a young buck investigating our empty chili cans. A mink appears also, and comically sticks its head far into one of the cans.

The next morning we paddle out into Portland Inlet, in conditions so rough that we consider turning back. But the chop seems to be lessening somewhat, so we figure we will be OK. Even so, it is by far our roughest open water crossing. How does one spell boat stability? Low tech, flat bottomed and beamy. This boat leaks like the proverbial sieve, and its speed is probably no contest for a hard shelled kayak, - meaning we must pay the price in muscle power to keep it moving respectably. But with its 37" beam it can handle some remarkably rough conditions.

Crossing from Wales Island we enter Alaskan waters! The wind remains strong and the water riddled in menacing whitecaps that toss the kayak violently. A huge surf smashes into the cliffs, but it is the "exploding rocks" that tend to ravel one's nerves. When an exceptionally large swell strikes a submerged rock, the result resembles a bomb going off in the water. These rocks stand well off of the coastline, meaning that we must paddle far, far out into the storm-tossed sea to circumvent them. Several times I ask Jenny to stop paddling and lie low while I swing the stern into a big wave. Finally we decide to call a halt to this insanity. We steer for a gap between two small islands, and behind them find a protected bay. Here we land and step ashore with thanksgiving.

Gradually we are learning ways of dealing with the rain. The problem lies not in the wetness of the environment, so much as in our own city-soft nature. Yet every day we make small discoveries. Today's is that we should dry some kindling near the campfire, and stow it in the kayak for starting our campfire at the following evening's camp.

The new and larger tarp (8'x10') is well worth the extra weight. We have pitched it downwind of the campfire, just out of range of any shooting sparks. Beneath the tarp, where they are drying in the fire's warmth, we have hung wet clothing, gear bags, life jackets and other sodden gear.

Our campsite has quite a nice ambience. The surrounding forest is not terribly dense, we can easily walk through it. This is due to the big cedars shading the understory and retarding its growth. By this we suspect that the impenetrable forests might be the product of indiscriminate logging.

Crossing Foggy Bay, we exit Dixon Entrance, the third and final open stretch exposed to the Pacific Ocean. We keep a steady pace in excellent conditions. But as we cross Boca Channel a blow pipes up out of the northwest. So we hunker down and paddle for all we are worth to reach the far shore. Then while crossing five-mile-wide Behm Canal the sea flattens, the air stills, and the sun even comes out for awhile. Two whales blow columns of vapor into the air. The seabirds seem to be enjoying the fine afternoon as much as we are. They are out on the water in great numbers; sea gulls, cormorants, grebes, loons, wood ducks, oyster catchers, and a few others. And of course bald eagles are well represented along the shore. One is chased by several gulls.

As we near Point Alava the sky darkens and a sinister southwest wind begins to blow. We steer into a nicely protected cove, by which time the wind is positively howling and the sea is strewn in white caps. I search out a campsite while Jenny fetches water from a creek. Today we have traveled 31 nautical miles in 10.5 hours of paddling, which is fairly typical on this trip.

After a storm-bound layover day we set off in a light rain and fairly rough seas. Making our way out this little bay proves no easy task, the chop is now head on, and the offlying rocks are a gunnery range for the oncoming seas. We proceed along the coast in strong winds on the port quarter and 4-foot white caps. Negotiating the channel at Cone Point, we slug our way across Thorn Arm in what feels like 30 knots of wind and up to 6-foot seas. This is very rough paddling, and frequently we have to stop and turn tail to the larger waves, which we find is our most stable position. All the while the rain pelts down, necessitating our pumping the bilge every 15 minutes.

Five miles of houses lead to city limits of Ketchikan. Suddenly, a rescue boat roars out from the Coast Guard Station very nearly running us over. The newspaper reports that a halibut boat sank in the storm, down by Annette Island - apparently just after we had paddled through that area.

To Wrangell

After a day in town we set off early in a healthy Ketchikan downpour laced with a smattering of hail. The seas in Tongass Narrows are nearly flat, and a light wind astern in conjunction with a bit of a favorable current aids progress. A short ways into the five mile crossing of the western Behm Canal a capricious south wind freshens and churns the seas into hissing, lashing commotion. At that point we have little recourse but to press on, thankful at least that the two hour downpour has ceased, and that the clouds have given way to blue sky. Nearing Caanano Point Jenny suggests we pull in behind the point. "My boots are full of water," she says.

The Sea Tub is made with extruded aluminum gunnels, into which connect the deck and hull fabrics. We figured this would be an advantage in loading and unloading the boat, since the foredeck slides back to permit access to the boat's interior. What we didn't figure is how badly these seams leak. Presently, waves are breaking against the boat every few moments, and water is percolating through the deck seams. In rough seas or rainy weather we consider a mile between pumping sessions excellent progress. In other words, the Tub gets about three gallons to the mile.

The next morning we follow the coastline, cutting wide a few shallow bays and indentations whilst making way along the eastern shore of Clarence Strait. At a distance of 100 feet, a killer whale surfaces, exposing not only its tremendous dorsal fin but half its colossal back. There is no mistaking these creatures, with their gleaming white and black markings. This orca blows a puff a spray like a locomotive letting off steam, then submerges. A few moments later the creature reappears, along with three others, including a "small" calf about the size of our kayak. The encounter leaves us in awe.

A short while later we have four more orcas bounding down onto us. The whales are steaming south, following the coast closely. We realize we are in their way, so start paddling hard for shore, but the

orcas turn out and give us a wide berth. Except for one brute that passes beneath the surface at a distance of 20 feet, churning the water around us into boils. The fact that the folks at Sea World have tamed a couple of killer whales detracts nothing from the grandeur of these magnificent creatures when seen at close range from the cockpit of a fabric and wood-framed kayak.

In calming seas and shining sun we head out across Ernest Sound. This is our longest open water crossing yet - eleven miles - something we would not have considered in suspect weather. Then without stopping we proceed toward Canoe Passage. Spreading things to dry on the warm rocks, we turn the kayak over and glue a patch over a small hole. As Jenny cooks supper and I pitch the tent, we talk about how the day has been most enjoyable, thanks in no small part to the fine weather.

The water in Canoe Passage is mirror-flat, being protected by the encompassing steep flanks. Reflected is the image of a snowy peak and the vibrant green grass at high water level, just below tree line. Adding to the magical mystery tour, the water is strewn with pink jellyfish, typically 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Care is in order not to get a paddle caught in one of the whispy, six-foot-long tendrils. Seabirds are well represented, and a deer watches us unconcernedly from the water's edge. Mink forage at low tide, feeding on urchins, mollusks, bivalves, etc. One mink looks the picture of contentment - shiny wet, it has just emerged from the water with the tail of a small fish protruding from its mouth. The place is calm and quiet, and scenic beyond measure.

Low tide affords the fascinating opportunity of viewing the seabed at close range. Among the eel grass and a variety of kelp are large clam shells and two types of star fish: one pink, and the other bright red and many-legged. The farther we go, the narrower and shallower the channel, until it is only a foot deep. Then it begins deepening again, and eventually we are through.

Mid-day we meet, of all things, another kayaker! We hail each-other, then land ashore for a chat. Mares tells us that she lives in Ketchikan and is paddling solo from Wrangell to home. Having seen two grizzly bears a few days ago, she advises us to carry a firearm. He is paddling a fiberglass kayak, and complains of how badly it leaks. We can certainly relate to that problem.

The entire day is rainless, the first such one in over a month. We are sunburned and it feels marvelous. This weather is favorable also for the no-see-ums, which prompt us to keep well clear of land. Speaking of small wildlife, our resident stowaway scurries across my leg. This is a daddy-longlegs spider that has taken residence aboard the Sea Tub, where no doubt it hunts for tiny insects.

On our journey's 40th day, we reach the town of Wrangell (Rang'-gull). This is not a typical cruise ship town, but it does have a few gift shops proffering the usual trinkets to tourists, who come here mainly by ferry. The economic mainstay is timber and fishing. Easing our anxieties about the bears, and taking Mares' advice, we buy a shotgun and a box of rifled 12-gauge slugs.

To Juneau

The water is silty with glacial till spewing from the nearby Stikine River, so as we paddle close to shore we don't see the rock until we slam into it and slide over it. This is the trip's first such encounter, and fortunately it does not puncture the hull.

For hours we labor against current and headwinds, making our way slowly through shallow Dry Strait. The adverse current is running at two knots, the effect of the Stikine River's outflow. Paddle as we do, our speed over the bottom is only half that. Negotiating the shallow tidal flat is an uncomfortable feeling when the wind is fresh and dry land is miles away.

But the sun is out in all its glory, and the scenery is spectacular with craggy mountains thrusting above pervasive snowfields. Across the strait we see the entrance to LeConte Bay, wherein lies the LeConte Glacier - Alaska's southernmost tidewater glacier. Far out in the straight are a few icebergs, reminding us that the sea is growing colder the farther north we travel. Because of this we are increasingly reluctant to use the sails. We feel much more secure under paddle power alone. The 2-part mast lies lashed to the deck on the starboard side, encrusted in salt. The boom with the mainsail wrapped tightly around it is lashed to the port gunnel. The sailing accoutrements now seem little more than part of the deck.

All day we have been seeing a lone sea lion. When we are at shore, it waits for us. On the long, open crossings it swims along behind, sometimes watching us intently, other times foraging underwater. Even as we make camp for the night the creature stays near. I sometimes whistle and catch its attention.

The farther we go, the more scenic the surroundings become. Here we are treated to expansive vistas back into the hinterland which terminate in lofty, glacier-clad peaks beneath a brilliant blue sky. But while cutting Thomas Bay we find ourselves in a dicey situation. The ebbing tide is throwing a strong current over the shallow mouth of the bay. This strong flow, combined with a brisk nor'westerly, is generating a gnarly field of overfalls frothing in whitecaps and roaring like a big set of rapids. We paddle as hard as we can go, traversing a hundred yards upcurrent of the overfalls while pointing the bow well into the bay and ferry gliding across. All the while the current is slowly pulling us toward the chaos. We persist for an hour, inching our way across the face of the overfalls while slowly loosing ground. Once past the worst of them we ease off and allow the boat to be swept into them. But here they are not breaking; only very lumpy standing waves.

We are nearly across Thomas Bay, still in fresh headwinds, when we come to a field of dense kelp. We have paddled through a lot of kelp on this trip, but nothing like this. The tide is well out, and the long fronds are floating thickly on the surface like king-sized rubber hoses. They are so dense that they prevent us from dipping our paddles into the water. Instead we have to scrape the blades across the rubbery kelp. At one point it stops us altogether, and requires a concerted effort to break free of its grasp.

The bottom is mainly sand with a bit of grass and the occasional barnacle encrusted rock. In about four feet of clear water we paddle directly over an extraordinarily large Dungeness crab. It stops and watches us pass overhead before resuming its ambling over the sea bed.

On the water's surface we watch the endless activities of the sea birds: loons sitting pretty on the water and giving their unique calls, then diving; wood ducks, cormorants, sea gulls, and terns constantly flying and landing, and chattering amongst themselves. Occasionally a bald eagle swoops down onto the water, flaring with talons extended to grab at a fish, usually unsuccessfully. And here once again, our sea lion friend is within whistling distance.

We awaken to the sound that makes the sea kayaker want to go back to sleep: surf. The sky is smeared in greasy altostratus, and a southwest wind is sending chop into our heretofore protected bay. The conditions are not boisterous enough to stop us, however, so we set off at 3:45 am. Even at this early hour the sky is light, for as we progress farther north the daylight is lasting longer. The winds are strong and the seas fairly rough, but with a favorable current we speed along nicely. At one point Jenny even ignites the stove and makes coffee.

The ground here is not covered with moss, as in the rain forests farther south, but in conifer needles. The trees are primarily sitka spruce, fir, and alder. The beaches are festooned in large horse clam shells up to five or six inches across. Standing on the tidal flat, one looks out across hundreds of water jets squirting three or four feet into the air, the effects of the bivalves aspirating. The intertidal zone is also replete with millions of shiny blue-black mussels, and unfortunately one cannot walk ashore without crushing a few with each step. At the eastern tip of the island we find three or four dilapidated, caved-in log cabins. Some time ago someone came, saw, conquered, and went away.

Ten hours of good sleep makes it somewhat easier to rise at 3 am. Cautiously, we paddle through an expansive field of offlying rocks, which extend too far offshore to paddle expediently around them. In the process we pass by half a dozen seals. They are trying to get some shut-eye, lying on barely submerged rocks with their heads and tails arched into the air. As we approach they look our way, then dive into the sea. These are probably the same rascals that roused us from sleep the previous evening when they decided to splash around in front of our camp.

The sky is thickly overcast and the seas somewhat choppy although not enough to get the adrenalin pumping. The novelty of crossing three-mile wide bays in succession is starting to wear a bit thin. So for something different we cross three-mile wide Windham Bay. Variety is the spice of any expedition, and we are looking forward to our upcoming portage of the Chilkoot trail and subsequent Yukon River float. Jenny attempts to enliven the morning by singing Girl Scout songs, most of the lyrics of which she cannot quite recall.

A pair of young otters are swimming for shore when we happen along. Ten feet from us they crawl out onto the rocks, one of them with a fish in its mouth. They look at us but don't seem concerned. Small incidents such as this enliven our days, and are one of the many true joys of sea kayaking.

We pull in for a break, and collect water from a small creek. Like most fresh water we have seen along the way, this is a deep, root beer color. We figure the cedar trees are leaching off the coloring, probably in the form of tannic acid. No one in the city would drink such repugnant looking water. But it is probably much purer than any city water, lacking the usual "purification" and "softening" chemicals.

Just as we are paddling out the bay, we turn and see a black bear yearling on the gravel beach, not far from where we had just picnicked. I whistle, but it pays us no heed. No doubt mama bear is nearby, keeping cover in the bushes. This is the trip's first bear sighting.

We paddle several more miles, and soon begin seeing odd white spots on the water far ahead. As we paddle closer there is no mistaking them: big, perhaps the size of a ferry, and white, tinged in a beautiful emerald green-blue. Icebergs!

The wind freshens and we trounce along, surfing the larger waves. We paddle past half a dozen big icebergs but at a distance of two or three miles abeam. Even at such a distance their size and color is astounding. I wish aloud that we could get closer for a better look at one of them. Little did I realize that my wish was to be granted, come morning.

Pulling into a protected bay, we unload and lug the gear to a good campsite just above high water. The sand is imprinted with large, fresh bear tracks. My pillow that night consists of my jacket covering my loaded shotgun. Even though it is a little on the hard side, it affords a comfortable night's sleep.

Jenny's morning routine is to step outside, have a look around, and tell me about the weather and sea conditions. This morning she exclaims that an iceberg has planted itself squarely on our beach. I emerge and am astounded at the sight of a fifteen foot tall, irregularly shaped, bluish-green, transparent, glassy, "UFO" The currents and ebbing tide deposited it here in the night. At 3 am my camera's meter indicates insufficient light for taking a picture, but I try anyway. Well, Jenny reminds me, I did say that I wanted to see one up close. So it is, at the precise place where we had landed. At no other time do we see another iceberg on a beach anywhere. This one is uniquely ours.

We set off across Holkham Bay toward the only hole in the fog. Through this hole we see land, but are not quite sure what land. I tell Jenny that if we get there in less than an hour, it is Harbor Island. If it takes a lot longer, it is the mainland. This island or mainland is not our most direct route, but there are times when instincts say not to head into the fog relying on instruments alone, and this is one of them. However I do take a compass bearing on the land in case we lose it to the fog.

The channel contains many icebergs, and we steer close to a few of them. Because of their great depth beneath the water's surface, the portion above water seems to glow with an emerald blue-green color. The effect is caused by the iceberg acting as a crystal lens, collecting and amplifying the light beneath the ocean's surface. And of course the ice further absorbs the lower wavelengths of the visible spectrum, leaving the blue colors. They are so large that they do not bob in the swells as do we. Rather, the swell bashes against them. They seem almost otherworldly.

After a long day afloat we land on a cobblestone beach, only to be chastised by a pair of bald eagles nesting nearby. An eagle's cry sounds something like a wimpy sea gull's; not what one might expect from a bird with a six or seven-foot wingspan. Nevertheless, for the next hour the eagles screech at us continually. We are sorry to disturb them, but not enough to actually move on. We make camp in the forest a hundred feet from the nest. The birds are very nervous about our presence, and from this we gather that few people frequent this particular beach. When we disappear into the tent they settle down.

It is Day 47 and we carry our gear down a steep bear trail to the beach. Perched in the tree above their nest, the eagles eye us distrustfully. We shove off in calm conditions. Rain falls lightly throughout the morning, and the low-lying stratus reveals only the lower hundred feet of the steep-to terrain. Today we navigate by cruise ship sightings, as boatloads of tourists head toward and return from Juneau.

The main hazard in Juneau harbor is the float planes taking off directly toward us and struggling to get airborne before roaring overhead. We exchange waves with one pilot as he clamors past, 30 feet above and to one side. Landing at a small dock near the ferry terminal, Jenny climbs ashore and goes scouting for a room while I watch the boat. She returns and we carry our sodden gear to a motel. Lugging the empty kayak along the streets generates surprisingly little reaction from people, as though this is a common sight.

We take a layover day, and spend some time with our friends aboard their 38 foot motorsailer Katzenjammer. They are cruising the thousand mile Inside Passage, making their way to Skagway same as us. Interestingly, we are keeping up with them.

To Skagway

Checking the tide tables for the best time to depart, we lug our gear down to the wharf, and find the ramp inclining so steeply that it requires practically climbing down. Overseeing our Tub loading operations, a raven chortles and mimics a cat's meow, and the flushing of a toilet, sounds it probably hears often from its usual perch.

Making our way along shallow Gastineau Channel, we pass marker number 5 and see that its zero mark is eight or ten feet overhead. This indicates that the channel ahead is high, if not dry. This channel would save us quite a few miles going all the way around Douglas Island, so while in Juneau we had made a number of inquiries regarding its navigability. We called the Harbor Master, the Coast Guard, a local kayak shop, and a chandler. At the chandlery we had read the pilot book to determine the channel's depth. No two opinions agreed. However, here at the piling we see that its marker agrees with the pilot, meaning that we need ten more feet of water in order to negotiate the channel's shallowest part. No worries, the tide should rise another thirteen feet this morning.

After a multi-hour struggle in strong currents and mud flats, we finally reach open water beyond the channel's northern entrance. Here we are treated to spectacular views of Mendenhall Glacier. The sea is flat, the wind calm, and the rain is holding off - ideal conditions for both ourselves and the two kayakers paddling past, going the other way. We exchange hearty waves from a distance. Their awkward paddling suggests they are not on expedition. They must be out for the day, and they appear to be enjoying themselves.

Because of the potentially hull-puncturing muscles that cover the rocks, when landing for a shore break we usually have to figure out ways of safeguarding the boat. Sometimes we simply stand there and hold it out from harm's way. Sometimes we anchor it out with a rock tied to the bow painter. But in this case the wind is blowing directly offshore, so we simply chock the bow line into a crack in a rock and allow the wind to hold the boat a few feet out. We must watch it carefully, though; should the anchoring line become dislodged we would find ourselves up the proverbial creek without a kayak.

The wind kicks up and soon has us blazing paddles, making for the safety of land still a mile away. The tide is flooding and we had expected it to set us into the bay, when actually we find ourselves being pushed out. The water is glacial till, grey and soupy, meaning it is the outflow of a large river. The current keeps us half a mile from shore, yet the sea is kicking up from the northwest, making it imperative that we land soon. We can only paddle parallel to shore, directly into the wind and chop, making way past the outflow. The passage is a slow one. Eventually we reach a pronounced dividing line between murky glacial till and clear sea water, from where it is an easy matter to steer for shore.

The wind and seas calm and the sun breaks through the patchy layer of stratus, leaving us basking in a glorious afternoon. The scenery here is nothing short of spectacular, with glacier and snowfield covered peaks flanking both sides of the canal; making for as dramatic a view as any we have seen on the trip.

Late afternoon we pull ashore, and while Jenny manages the boat I search out a campsite. "It's nice," I report back to her, "but it'll need a bit of work." I hack. I saw. Jenny drags away my spruce trimmings. 20 minutes later we have carved a niche in the impenetrable forest. The ground here is covered in dry needles, affording a most comfortable bed, and the surrounding thicket not only shunts the wind, but provides a sense of security from the bears, even if it is a false one. The grizzly tracks on the beach and many trails leading through the brush prompt us to keep the shotgun with us at all times.

We set off into an increasing nor'westerly, which, combined with the adverse current, soon has us crawling along, paddles a'flyin' and chop moiling menacingly over the foredeck. Thus, we slog along for the next three hours. We are becoming somewhat accustomed to this type of going, however. In essence, our motto is that as long as things don't get much worse, we are fine. Twice we stop in the lee of small offshore rocks to rest, pump the bilge, swallow a few long draughts of water, and dig out a snack from the day-bag. The coastline is steep-to, and the rocky escarpments afford very few chances of landing and even fewer possibilities of camping.

"Wasn't it funny about the mouse last night?" Jenny remarks. This surprises me, and I say, "Did that really happen? I thought I dreamed it." "Yeah," she says, "it crawled up beneath the fly. You gave it a little whack, and it crawled back down and ran off." I really thought I had just dreamed that.

The headwinds diminish to a gentle breeze, and the sun appears, prompting us to shed a few layers of clothing. And with the change in tide we no longer battle the strong adverse current. The speed at which the conditions can change from bad to good and visa versa is astounding. Often this happens with the change of tide. No meteorologist in his or her right mind would dare say that the wind changes with the tide, but we have seen it happen so many times that we cannot deny the connection.

With the prospects of finishing the ocean section of our summer's journey, we talk about our upcoming portage, and about reaching Bennett Lake and the headwaters of the Yukon River. We are not burned out from ocean paddling by any means. Still, we are looking forward to lesser fetch, no tides, salt-free water, and hopefully a drier, warmer climate. But we are going to miss our ever present companions the "sea doggies" (sea lions).

Speaking of which, as we paddle along a particularly attractive section of smooth granite, we come upon a colony of sea lions basking in the delicious sunshine. We approach, and as I sit taking pictures we inadvertently drift a little too close. The animals erupt into a cacophonous roar, and a couple dozen waddle, en masse, into the water. Then to our horror they charge. Bunched tightly together, heads and necks well out of the water and mouths agape, they roar at us furiously. For a while I think we have met our doom. We paddle away full tilt, as the tight-knit band of sea lions chases close behind. Of course, with their tremendous swimming abilities they could easily overtake us, had they wanted to. But they let us pull ahead.

We paddle on, shaken and not quite knowing whether to laugh or shudder. Then as though offering consolation, a few sea lions sport around the kayak playfully for another half mile.

We land ashore, and behind a dense wall of spruce and alder find the ruins of an old cabin that long ago had fallen into a rotting heap. Old pots and pans and what-have-yous are strewn about, but the best preserved relic is a white porcelain door knob. It looks brand new, though incongruously affixed to a piece of rotted door. We take no souvenirs, but we do take a sponge bath in the nearby creek.

The morning brings calm conditions and millions of no-see-ums and mosquitoes. We paddle into a strong adverse current that retards progress all morning. The rain is no help either. At times the current is so strong that we must hold to within a few feet of the rock shoreline. This means that we have to paddle into every shallow bay and back out and around always the next bluff. At one point we happen upon a foraging mink. I whistle, and to our surprise it moseys toward us to the edge of a rock, from where it looks at us inquisitively; almost as though tame.

Four colossal cruise ships steam past, and one merely huge one, all bound for Skagway, situated at the northern terminus of the Lynn Canal - the continent's longest and deepest fiord. Going the other way the yacht Katzenjammer motors past, heading home to Sidney.

Rounding the final bend, as indicated by the wall of cruise ships moored to various wharves, we find the waterfront thronging with cruise ship passengers. They are strikingly city-clean and neatly dressed. And we, straining at the oars, are dressed for the weather in full foul weather attire, from rubberized mittens to Sou'wester hats. To top off our seagoing costumes, our two-cockpit spray skirt sports lively yellow sponges strategically positioned where the skirt-zippers leak the worse. And no doubt we smell like five day old fish.

Soaked and chilled we wander into town. The cruise ship visitors seem to take the place very seriously, but to us the ambience seems contrived; like a Disneyland based on the theme of the Klondike Gold Rush, and obviously intent on extracting tourist money.

We find a hotel room, then visit the Park Service Visitors Center where we enjoy an interesting talk with the head ranger. He says he has not heard of anyone carrying their boats over the Chilkoot Trail other than Kruger and Landick. After lugging our gear to the hotel and washing a round of clothing, we collect our resupply parcels at the post office, then return to the room to relax. With the ocean section of our trip now behind us, we feel more like seasoned kayakers. Now we are ready to face the next challenge, the portage of the Chilkoot Trail.

Saga of the Sea Tub, Part 2

© 1988 Ray Jardine

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